G-20 EXTRA ~ Australia PM Rudd on Economy and Climate Change

Andrew Morgan, Pitt Law '11, attended a lecture given by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd while in Pittsburgh for the G-20 Summit...



I'll be the first to admit that I don't know an awful lot about Australian politics. When I received a press pass for a speech by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University last Thursday, I wasn't sure what to expect. In the end, here's what I found out: Kevin Rudd is a nerd. I'm not casting aspersions. The Prime Minister of one of the world's richest nations took the podium at one of the world's premier technical universities and introduced himself as a "self-proclaimed nerd." He then set about proving this hypothesis, and succeeded admirably.

Mr. Rudd began his speech as all speeches must begin, with enough details about the forum to show that he knew where he was speaking, and a few quips to lighten the mood. He managed to tie William Pitt's establishment of a fort at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers to the creation of Australia in fewer than five steps, and finished this observation by noting that we should "blame the British for everything." His largely Australian and American crowd erupted with applause, thirty seconds of cacophony demonstrating our common colonial heritage. He likes Pittsburgh, he told us, recounting the now-familiar story of its renaissance from gritty industry town to gleaming paragon of the "knowledge economy." In what can only be considered a small misstep by his research staff, Rudd told us that you can see the spirit of Pittsburgh in the Steelers, the Penguins and the Pirates, perhaps not realizing that the Pirates haven't had a winning season in 17 years, the longest losing streak in any of the four major American sports.

The introduction did its job: Kevin Rudd is an affable and well-spoken nerd, with a seemingly genuine good nature and superb comic timing. (Perhaps a career in the foreign service is not quite as nerdy as Mr. Rudd would have us believe.) He is also very, very excited about carbon capture and sequestration, macroeconomic coordination and, well, robots.

Kevin Rudd is, after all, extremely concerned about climate change. He described the challenge of mitigating rising global temperatures as "existential," and he has a firm idea of what needs to be done to achieve that goal. His earnest devotion is frankly confusing in a country where some are still debating the existence of global warming, and I waited for someone in the audience to stand up and proclaim, "The science is still out!" or remind us about dinosaurs.

Instead, the Prime Minister of Australia laid out his vision of the future: climate change dampened, pockets full. Mr. Rudd sees "macroeconomic coordination" as the solution to the problem of climate change. With the collapse of what he described as the "debt-driven" economy, Mr. Rudd sees the potential destruction of an ecosystem capable of supporting human life as a fantastic business opportunity, for both the developed and developing worlds. He called for macroeconomic policies that would "put a price on carbon," and for a response to climate change "grounded in science."

Economically, Mr. Rudd supported the establishment of global carbon markets, which he said will not only create an incentive for companies, individuals and nations to reduce their emissions, but are necessary to prevent retaliatory tariffs between states as resources dwindle. He stressed the necessity of providing transitional support to developing nations, as both a precondition to success and as an incentive for developed nations who have been reticent to participate without commitments from emerging economies. Mr. Rudd urged the world community to provide the resources necessary to achieve the goals laid out in climate change treaties, saying that a reduction in green house gasses will not "result from the signing of an international accord."

Technologically, the Prime Minister is very excited about a number of developments. He's excited about energy efficiency, which he said should be a core part of the design and construction of buildings, not an afterthought. He's excited about the carbon capture and sequestration project through which Exxon-Mobil and Chevron are developing Australian natural gas reserves, and about the global technological dominance that Australia may reap from being ahead of the curve. He's excited about the US$1B solar farm being constructed in his country to displace power generation from dirtier means. After all, said Kevin Rudd, "We don't lack for the sun, we don't lack for the land, and indeed, we don't lack for the desert." He's excited about the prospect of finding technological solutions to the climate problem, just as humans increased crop yields through genetics and eradicated polio through virology.

The Prime Minister reminded his audience that humans are capable of great creativity and great destruction, and urged everyone, scientists, financiers, even lawyers(!), to devote their individual talents to meeting the challenge of climate change.

Prime Minister Rudd did not stay for the panel discussion, and neither did anyone else. He had a dinner invitation from the President of the United States at Phipps Conservatory and I decided to see if I could tag along. Well, not along per se, but at least as far as the security perimeter. Giving up on Flagstaff Hill, which was fenced off and guarded by mounted police, K-9 units and at least one sharpshooter who was not as well hidden as he thought he was, I continued through CMU to Schenley Plaza. There, roughly 50 protesters were gathered in the middle of Schenley Drive, flanked by three times as many bystanders, on-lookers and hangers-on. They wanted to see how close they could get to the corps of riot police who had lined up at the end of the bridge leading to Phipps. The answer, it turned out, was about 15 feet; after that, you get the tear gas. The efficacy of this dispersal method was severely hampered by (1) the fact that it was only smoke, not tear gas (but don't tell the fleeing crowd!) and (2) the stalwart protester who continued to keep his "Caution: New World Order Ahead" poster held aloft despite being engulfed by the cloud. Reconstituted, the crowd lackadaisically asked the officers just whom they protected, whom they served, and reminded them that these are "our streets." The police answered by riding their huge horses toward the crowd, successfully pushing us back 100 yards in a most Braveheart-like fashion.

And there we stood. For hours. No organized resistance. Very little in the way of chanting, signage, or agitation. Just a small army of riot police, shoulder to shoulder, making sure that Kevin Rudd could eat his dinner in peace, as throngs of bored college kids posed for pictures in front of them with their thumbs up and smiles on their faces.

 

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